The Norman Transcript

Columns

April 22, 2014

Hero of Haarlem … for common good

NORMAN — “Trudging stoutly along by the canal,” as the story goes, the 8-year-old son of a Dutch sluicer was returning home from delivering cakes to a blind man. Humming as he passed the dikes, he noticed that recent rains had made his father’s job even more important.

In fact, because a large portion of Holland was below sea level, the job his father did was essential. Sluicers manipulated the water levels by using a series of gates, dikes and canals to protect the villages and countryside from flooding.

The young boy was proud of his father’s brave, old gates and their strength and pondered briefly how sluicers always referred to the danger of “angry waters” inundating the land.

Suddenly the child was startled by the sound of trickling water. Up the side of the dike he noticed a small hole through which a tiny stream of water was flowing. “Quick as a flash, he saw his duty,” thrust his chubby little finger into the hole and stopped the flow.

Initially he was proud of the fact that he was doing his part in holding back the “angry waters” and that his hometown of Haarlem would not be drowned while he was there.

The remainder of the chapter, titled “Friends in Need” in Mary Mapes Dodge’s 1865 novel “Hans Brinker; or the Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland,” illustrates the boy’s overnight experience.

The story relates the physical and mental anguish and the battle against numbing cold that the young boy encountered, awkwardly perched halfway up the dike all night long until he was discovered at daybreak, in pain and despair — yet alive and ultimately well — by a passing priest.

This legislative session, there is a desperate need for persons with the character of the young Dutch boy. There are a number of bills that need to be turned back like the “angry waters.”

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